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Merchants & Marauders» Forums » Variants

Subject: Variant Rules (includes solo variant) rss

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Derek Dunnagan
United States
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I've attached below variant rules that I've been using to increase my enjoyment of this excellent game, including a solitaire variant that I've found works very well for both merchant and pirate captains. I've included comments describing my rationale for the variant rules, which you can use to see if they'd be of any interest to you. In general, the rules below address the following items that are issues for me (YMMV of course): NPCs can be too static; rumors and missions seem a bit underpowered, particularly if they require movement across the map; the goods could use a bit of differentiation; merchant players that get lucky with more than their fair share of three/four-of-a-kinds can be hard to stop; and the oft-discussed lack of benefit for a +1 maneuverability advantage.

Draw Event Card
If the Event Card is a naval or pirate ship card, draw a second card. If the second card has any NPC movement icons at the top, resolve them and then discard the second card without resolving the event or new ship. The first Event Card remains resolved in full.
This is to facilitate more NPC movement. In particular, it avoids situations where players are effectively blockaded out of their home ports by a NPC that doesn’t move. It also puts more time pressure on the player(s), particularly for the solitaire variant below.

Actions: Move
A player that devotes his entire turn to “move” actions may attempt to make an additional “move” action, unless his masts are destroyed. He does this by declaring his route and then rolling a number of dice equal to his maneuverability minus one. If he gets one or more successes, he may take the additional “move”. Otherwise, he stops after the (usually third) “move”.
This minor rule attempts to address two points: it seems odd that slow ships and fast ships all move across the board at the same speed, and also it can take a while to move great distances on the map, which will disadvantage players that need to do so. It can also add a bit of excitement, particularly if a player needs to reach port to shelter from an unfriendly Captain or a storm.

Port: Sell & Buy Goods
A maximum of two goods per “port” action may sell for the in-demand price. Any goods sold over two are sold at the regular price. If only one in-demand good is sold, the demand has not been satisfied and the Demand Token is not replaced with a new token.
The rules aren’t clear on how many in-demand goods get the bonus price, but the prevailing interpretation seems to be all of them. It seems odd that a port would pay premium prices beyond the point where the demand would be met. Here, it is assumed that two goods meets the excess demand, which also serves to reign in a little bit merchant players that are getting lucky with a large number of triples.

Each port has an associated Abundant Good. That good can never be in demand there. If that Demand Token is drawn there, draw another token. When buying goods, if a Cargo Card is drawn matching the in-demand good, replace the card with a card from the discard pile that matches the Abundant Good. Only if there are no cards matching the Abundant Good in the discard pile is another card drawn.

Tobacco: Havana & Nassau
Wood: Tortuga & Petite Goave
Food: Santo Domingo & San Juan
Sugar: St. Maarten & Basse-Terre
Rum: St. John & Bridgetown
Cocoa: Trinidad & Caracas
Textiles: Curacao & Cartagena
Spice: Old Providence & Port Royal

The purpose of this section is mostly to make the trading portion of the game more interesting, by reflecting differences in the goods by abstractly considering where goods were historically produced or otherwise abundant. It also adds a bit of strategy by considering which ports are more likely to deliver desired goods.

Port: Acquire a Rumor
Draw 1 Rumor Card per success, and choose a single card to keep.

In addition, roll a second Influence check to get intel on missions. If successful, the player may draw a single Secret Mission if he does not currently have one. A Secret Mission is not revealed to any other players. If the Influence check succeeds but the player already has a Secret Mission, he may discard one of the two missions on the game board. A mission is immune from being discarded if another player is in the same or an adjacent Sea-Zone as it. The player must then replace the discarded mission from either the mission deck or by instructing any player (including himself) to place his Secret Mission on the map.
I’ve become convinced that the rumor and mission aspects of the game are underpowered, and that Captains that specialize in this area (high Influence) are therefore at a bit of a disadvantage. I’ve also seen games where a couple weak missions just sit on the game board, which means that whole aspect of the game is lost. These rules will bring a few more rumors and missions into the game, as well as adding a bit more player choice to the mix. The idea is that while at the tavern (presumably where those 2 Gold are going) a Captain, particularly one with good connections and that can work a room, may very well hear multiple rumors as well as tips about employers looking to hire a Captain.

A Captain with 2 or more maneuverability does not get an extra die in the Seamanship contest. Instead, a Captain with more maneuverability may reroll a number of his Seamanship dice equal to the difference in maneuverability.
The oddity that unmodified Frigates get no maneuverability advantage over Galleons is noticed quickly by most players, with various variants proposed to fix. In my view the actual problem lies in the significant advantage that a ship with +2 maneuverability has, while +1 maneuverability has no benefit. This seems like a logical disconnect, and this rule changes it so that the faster ship always gets an advantage in combat.

Solitaire Rules
These rules require the Draw Event Card variant rule above; otherwise, the player will have too little time pressure. All of the rest of the above variant rules can be used or not used per the player’s preference for this solitaire variant. If not using the Secret Mission variant, ignore the bullet point about your Opponent rolling Influence when he enters a port of his own nationality. This variant takes about as long as a two-player game.

If your Captain gets to 16 Glory Points—no more than 8 of which may be from stashed gold—you win. If your Captain dies or there is no Event Card to draw, you lose. If your Captain gets to 20 Glory Points—no more than 10 of which may be from stashed gold—you have become a Caribbean legend!

When starting the game, after selecting your Captain, keep drawing Captains until one of a different nationality and with a Scouting skill of at least 3 is drawn. This is your Opponent. Your Opponent starts with a Sloop. Your Opponent always has a Grappling Hook and Chain Shot.

Each Event Phase, roll a die to determine your Opponent’s movement. Your Opponent will move one Sea-Zone in the following direction: 1: North, 2: East, 3: South, 4: West. As with NPC movement, rotate clockwise until a viable move is found. A skull roll means that your Opponent moves one Sea-Zone toward to you. If there are multiple options, he will choose the option that includes a port of his nationality. If there are still multiple options, you may choose.

When your Opponent enters a Sea-Zone with a port of his nationality:
• If two of the three Naval Ships that are not his nationality are on the board, he exchanges his Sloop for a Frigate (surrendering all Ship Modifications unless in St. John).
• He takes the Ship Modification from that port (if any).
• He rolls an Influence check. If successful, he removes a random mission from the game board (missions in or adjacent to the Sea-Zone of your ship are exempt). He replaces the mission with your Secret Mission if you have one, or the mission deck if not.

Your Opponent will scout for you like an NPC, whether you are pirate or non-pirate, but only if the sum of all of the following is greater for him than for you:
• Maneuverability
• Crew
• Cannons
• Captain’s Seamanship
• Captain’s Leadership
• One each for Reinforced Hull, Chasers, Swivel Guns, and Long Guns
• You get one for Chain Shot if you have more cannons than your Opponent has masts

If you have at least 8 Glory Points, your Opponent will scout for you if this total is merely equal to yours. You are immune from being scouted by your Opponents if you start and end your turn in port.

For events, your Opponent is treated as a Player Pirate. For all other purposes, your Opponent is treated as an NPC Pirate. If you kill your Opponent, draw another Captain as above and equip with a Sloop.
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Michael Scribner
United States
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I love many of these, and will definitely be testing them out with my playgroup. Thank you for sharing them.
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